Civil engineers in Mexico are in the midst of an ambitious project to span the infamous Devil's Backbone. Until now, if you wanted to cross the twisted span of the Sierra Madre that separates Durango from the coastal city of Mazaltan, you had to either take an eight-hour detour that circumnavigated the mountains or risk life and limb by tackling the dirt road that snakes through drug country. When the project wraps up in 2012, drivers will be able to hop over the mountains in a mere two and a half hours.

To make it happen, workers will have to carve a total of 63 tunnels through some 11 miles of stone. They'll also have to raise 32 bridges, including one that will become the second highest span in the world. Work on the road officially kicked off in 2005, though crews just got started cutting their way through the Devil's Backbone last year. Workers have already begun digging the longest tunnel – a 1.6 mile behemoth.

Mexico has a lot riding on the road. The land between Durango and Mazaltan has been difficult to access in the past, and as a result, there have been few jobs. Most local citizens have turned to the drug trade for work in one aspect or another, and the area has become one of the country's largest producers of marijuana and opium. With the new highway in place, federal officials are hoping both tourism and industry will flow into the area and supplant drug-based jobs with higher-earning options.

[Source: USA Today | Image: Google Maps]

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